Meet the market // Signs of the seasons

There are inevitably more ideas, even good ones, bandied about by volunteers than there are resources to make them manifest. One of our board members had this idea about signs. It was an idea that came out of the endless conversations over ways to get the word out about the market. We already have our postcard campaigns. Though we struggle with it, we have a website. You can find out the latest and greatest (and substantially unelaborated) news about us on Twitter. The market will soon be on Facebook. We have made tall signs, short signs, lawn signs.  But the conversation continues.

This new sign idea had to do with a kind of roadside poetry. It was inspired by the ad campaign launched here in Minneapolis in the 1920s for Burma Shave. I was not yet around even when Burma Shave wound up its epic-length ad campaign in the early 1960s, but there must have been something to the idea considering its success and endurance. Even now a person can find several websites devoted to the company’s jingles. Anyway, this one board member had the notion we should use the idea. Crazy.

Imagine a series of roadside signs, say… right along Nicollet, each with a single line:

Berries come
and berries go
to get your share
you’d better show
up early at
the Kingfield Farmers Market

OK, aside from the fact that I’m no poet, how would it work? Burma Shave’s campaign became obsolete with the rise of the super-highway, faster speeds, greater distance between the roadway and wayside signboards. Can we move slowly enough anymore to catch the details?

It reminds me that there was a time when berries would have been available for only a brief moment in the growing season — a moment marked by the rarest signpost, easily missed but eagerly anticipated by all who had made it through a long and barren winter. Before the days of super markets, super ubiquity, this would have been true for anything grown and harvested for the dinner table — berries, sweet corn, tomatoes. The season’s first signpost might have read something like: Radishes, Rhubarb, Morels, Tender Greens, Herbs. The next would have read: Spring Onions, Broccoli, Strawberries, Peas. And so on…  Each sign would have yielded only a partial and fleeting disclosure of what the season might finally bear. Other growing seasons would have offered iterations of the same themes but with delightful and surprising variations — no two seasons precisely alike.

The strawberries this season are sweet and soft.

The strawberries last season were bright and tart.

We could have only known what to expect by looking back.

What happened to this idea of anticipating and briefly savoring the jingles, the gestures, of the season?

In some ways, the same things that happened to the Burma Shave ads: greater efficiencies in transportation, a more hurried life, a longer distance between the farm and table. Certainly astounding conveniences were achieved by this transformation in the food production and distribution system. But the trade for this convenience was to give up flavor, delight and a heightened pleasure only afforded in dealings with ephemera.

The farmers market, unlike the supermarket, is still bound today by a series of seasonal gestures. People wander into our earliest markets and wonder where the produce is. Of course, in this northern climate, produce is still finding its way out of the folds of the earth in May and June. By mid-July the market is a riot of colors, textures, and flavors — a manic moment to oppose the long and somnolent winter. In the fall, the season becomes more careful of its excess, squirreling its energy away into winter squash, root vegetables and the like.

Crazy. Imagine posting a new jingle each week: sign making, placement, pick-up. In the here today, gone tomorrow rush of local farm goods, we couldn’t get out of it. Volunteers, anyone?

Kingfield resident David Nicholson has been living and working in the food world for many years now, most notably as his family’s scratch cook. He is currently the manager of the Midtown Farmers Market and board chair for the Kingfield Farmers Market.

Kingfield Farmers Market

The market runs every Sunday through October, 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m. at 43rd & Nicollet. It features locally grown food, music and more. For more information, visit


Sunday, July 5
Music: Jaspar Lepak
1st Sunday Kids event sponsored by Simply Jane Studio

Sunday, July 12
Music: Roe Family Singers
2nd Sunday Bake-off event (Berry Bake-off). Sponsored by Linden Hills Co-op. The IRV/RCV people should be assisting with the balloting.